Guest Post: Coq au Vin
Editor’s Note from Elysabeth: My sister, Cecilia, mastered the art of French cooking this weekend with the help of Julia Child. Here are her adventures with Coq au Vin!
I have been a fan of Julia Child’s all my life. I used to be glued to the TV any time her show came on. So in anticipation of the release of the movie Julie and Julia (which I have seen twice now), I have been preparing. I read Julia Child’s My Life in France, then my mom bought me her first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking and most recently I read Julie and Julia by Julie Powell.As a result I decided to choose one recipe and cook it. For this experiment, I chose my very favorite French dish, Coq au Vin, which basically is chicken in a wine sauce. Julia Child (JC) had a way of inspiring all people to be chefs, whether male or female, novice or advanced given the right attitude anyone can make her recipes (so I hoped).
I had been preparing for this for two weeks and I will be honest, I was quite NERVOUS. Finally my friend James told me to channel Julia. Since I couldn’t call her on the phone, I did the next best thing. I made my pilgrimage to her kitchen at the Smithsonian American History Museum. I was hoping to draw some confidence from her. It must have worked because I survived and when I made my Coq au Vin, none of my guests ran away in horror!
I will include the recipe for everyone but I would encourage you to refer to the cookbook as JC outlines everything so well but I am including some tips that I found while doing this. It can be found in Mastering the Art of French Cooking on page 263 in the 40th Anniversary edition published in December 2008.
First, it is important to ensure that you have the correct cooking vessel. JC calls for a flame-proof casserole but through my (extensive!) research a Dutch Oven will also do. I didn’t have either vessel so I had to go on the hunt. I ended up purchasing a Emile Henry French-imported flame proof casserole at Sur La Table. I also got a Calphalon porcelain casserole dish with a lid from Bed Bath and Beyond. Honestly, due to the space needed for the recipe I ended up cooking it in my wok pan and then transferring it to the casseroles for serving.
So here we go. A word of advice and I am sure this is common logic but be sure to cut up the veggies ahead of time because the beginning is a bit of a waiting game and once you set the cognac on fire everything happens really fast.
Coq au Vin
- 3-4 oz. chunk of lean bacon
- 2 tb. butter
- 2½ -3 lbs cut frying chicken
- ½ + tb salt
- 1/8 tb pepper
- ¼ cup Cognac
- 3 cups young full bodied red wine such as Burgundy, Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone or Chianti
- 1-2 cups brown chicken stock
- ½ tbsp. tomato paste
- 2 cloves mashed garlic
- ¼ tsp thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 12-24 brown braised (pearl) onions
- ½ lb sautéed mushrooms
- salt and pepper
- 3 tb. flour
- Sprigs of Parsley
1. Remove the rind and cut the bacon into rectangles ¼ inch across and 1 inch long. Simmer for 10 minutes in 2 quarts of water. Rinse in cold water. Dry. Note: This is because French bacon is different than bacon here. You want the smoked bacon but you are essentially taking the smoke out of this. This can be learned on Julia Child’s The French Chef episode for Beouf Bourginon.
2. Saute bacon slowly in hot butter until it is lightly browned and then remove to a side dish.
3. Dry Chicken thoroughly (this is JC’s secret to browning meat really evenly and quickly. I have tried and it really works). Brown in hot fat in the casserole (again I used my wok). Note: I bought my chicken fresh at the Eastern Market but you can get it at the grocery store as long as it is a Fryer.
4. Season the chicken with the salt and pepper. Return the bacon to the casserole with the chicken. Cover and cook slowly for 10 minutes, turning the chicken once.
5. Uncover and pour Cognac. Averting face, ignite the Cognac with a lighted match. Shake the casserole back and forth for several seconds until the flames subside.
As a tidbit about flaming the Cognac… I live in an apartment building and a few weeks ago the fire alarms went off and we had to evacuate, so I was naturally concerned about setting the Cognac on fire. I thought it would be best to do it on the balcony. My roommate Abi was in charge of the door, James handled the camera, Ryan was holding the pan and pouring the Cognac and I lit it on fire. We could not get it to light under those circumstances but then I realized that it must be because the pan is cold. So we went in the kitchen and put it back on the burner, heated it back up and then successfully set it on fire. All was well, the flame was contained and it burned a brilliant hue. I had to keep shaking the pan to get it to go down as JC instructed. As JC says one needs to be strong in their convictions and once I was all went well.
6. Now comes the wine… I used a Beaujolais because it is my favorite red. I chose a less expensive wine for the sauce and a more expensive (not by much because I am on a budget) Beaujolais for drinking with the meal. Any of the above mentioned wines would work.
Pour wine into the casserole. Add just enough stock or bouillon to cover the chicken. Stir in tomato paste, garlic and herbs. Bring to the simmer. Cover and simmer slowly for 25 to 30 minutes or until chicken is tender and its juices fun clear yellow when the meat is pricked with a fork. Remove chicken to a side dish.
7. While the chicken is cooking braise the onions and sautee the mushrooms. There are directions for doing both of these in JC’s book as well. Note on the onions… I used yellow onions, which were very tasty and you need to brown braise them. I am guessing that she may have used different onions than I did because she recommended 12-24 onions. I cut up 14 and only braised ¾ of them and used about half of the total so I would stay closer to 12 medium onions. I was going at the onions and had a mound just like the scene in the movie, which made my friends laugh at me. So now I think I will be using the extra onions to make Marc’s French Onion Soup!
8. Simmer the chicken cooking liquid in the casserole for a minute or two, skimming off fat. Then raise heat and boil rapidly, reducing the liquid to about 2 ¼ cups. Correct seasoning. Remove from heat and discard bay leaf.
9. Blend the butter and flour together into a smooth paste. Beat the paste into the hot liquid with a wire whip. Bring to a simmer, stirring and simmer for a minute or two. The sauce should thicken up enough to coat the spoon.
10. As the end when the sauce thickens I then lined my Calphalon casserole dish with the chicken then I put the mushrooms and onions on. You pour the sauce on last and then I put the vessel into the oven for warming with the cover on.
11. Serve from the casserole or arrange on a hot platter. Decorate with springs of parsley.
Also as a way to soak up the wonderful sauce, per Julia’s suggestion, I boiled potatoes and peeled them. They were the small red potatoes. Then I layered them in my Emile Henry dish with butter and parsley and also warmed them in the oven.
After a few minutes, I served it with Beaujolais (the same wine as was used in the sauce)…
It must have been good because aside from the unused onions, there were no leftovers! So the thing I encourage all the readers to take away is this… This recipe may seem daunting but as JC would encourage… have strength in your convictions and be fearless and all will turn out tastily. I enjoyed my bonding time with Julia and now I will start planning my next recipe!
I am Cecilia Kocinski-Mulder, Thank you and Bon Appetit!